The case claims that the Chinese government has subsidized its automotive export industry in a way that is not allowed under World Trade Organization rules. The U.S. Trade Representative's office is also pushing ahead in a separate WTO case against Chinese duties on exports from the U.S. to China.
As a result of the move, China filed a complaint with the WTO against a new U.S. law aimed at combating China's subsidies. The move is called "Countervailing duties" and includes tariffs on tires and steel.
The launching of this case comes at a time when President Obama is looking for an edge in key battleground states like Ohio, where jobs are put at risk by China's subsidies. The case allows Obama to take a strong stance one the issue; presidential challenger Mitt Romney has criticized the White House for being too soft with China as it regards defending American jobs.
The Ohio auto parts industry directly employs over 50,000 people, and China's undervaluation of its yuan currency has made for cheap Chinese products, which undercut U.S. products. Romney has vowed to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office, while current administration officials say much progress has been made without turning up tensions.
Due to WTO rules, China's counter-claim has enacted a 60-day period, in which the U.S. and China can talk things out. After that periods is up, China could ask the WTO to make a ruling on the matter.